In every industrialized nation, the movement to reform health care has begun with stories about cruelty. The Canadians had stories like the 1946 Toronto Globe and Mail report of a woman in labor who was refused help by three successive physicians, apparently because of her inability to pay. In Australia, a 1954 letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald sought help for a young woman who had lung disease. She couldn’t afford to refill her oxygen tank, and had been forced to ration her intake “to a point where she is on the borderline of death.” In Britain, George Bernard Shaw was at a London hospital visiting an eminent physician when an assistant came in to report that a sick man had arrived requesting treatment. “Is he worth it?” the physician asked. It was the normality of the question that shocked Shaw and prompted his scathing and influential 1906 play, “The Doctor’s Dilemma.” The British health system, he charged, was “a conspiracy to exploit popular credulity and human suffering.”
In the United States, our stories are like the one that appeared in the Times before Christmas. Starla Darling, pregnant and due for delivery, had just taken maternity leave from her factory job at Archway & Mother’s Cookie Company, in Ashland, Ohio, when she received a letter informing her that the company was going out of business. In three days, the letter said, she and almost three hundred co-workers would be laid off, and would lose their health-insurance coverage. The company was sel...
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